Macaroni and Cheese

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Below is an article I had written about a famous comfort food dish known as Macaroni and Cheese:

 

MACARONI AND CHEESE

Macaroni and Cheese is a famous dish known throughout Europe and other Western countries, especially the United States. My own memories of the dish date back to my childhood when my parents and grandmother used to serve it to me and my siblings . . . especially from the pre-packaged box form created by the company, Kraft. But I have eaten traditional homemade Macaroni and Cheese every now and then.

Although known today as an American comfort dish, Macaroni and Cheese was a dish made from Parmesan cheese and past that originated in Italy. Pasta and cheese casseroles have been recorded in cookbooks as early as the 14th century’s “Liber de Coquina”, one of the oldest medieval cookbooks. The dish also made its first appearance in England during the same century, in the famous English medieval cookbook titled “Forme of Cury”.

The first modern recipe for Macaroni and Cheese appeared in Elizabeth Raffald’s 1769 book “The Experienced English Housekeeper”. Her recipe called for a Béchamel sauce with Cheddar cheese, which is mixed with macaroni pasta, sprinkled with Parmesan cheese and baked. The dish also appeared in the famous Victorian cookbook, “Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management” and included two recipes for the dish.

Many would be surprised to learn that the future third President of the United States, Thomas Jefferson may have been responsible for the introduction of Macaroni and Cheese to Americans. He first sampled the dish in both in Paris and in northern Italy, and later incorporated the dish at his Virginia home, Monticello. As the country’s third president, Jefferson served Macaroni and Cheese at a State dinner in 1802. Mary Randolph, sister to Jefferon’s son-in-law Thomas Mann Randolph Jr., included a recipe for the dish in her 1824 cookbook, “The Virginia Housewife”.

Below is a recipe for “Macaroni and Cheese” from the MyRecipe website:

Macaroni and Cheese

Ingredients

2 cups milk
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 (10-oz.) block extra sharp Cheddar cheese, shredded
1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper (optional)
1/2 (16-oz.) package elbow macaroni, cooked

Preparation

1. Whisk flour into butter

Preheat oven to 400°. Microwave milk at HIGH for 1 1/2 minutes. Melt butter in a large skillet or Dutch oven over medium-low heat; whisk in flour until smooth. Cook, whisking constantly, 1 minute.

2. Whisk in warm milk

Gradually whisk in warm milk, and cook, whisking constantly, 5 minutes or until thickened.

3. Whisk in cheese

Whisk in salt, black pepper, 1 cup shredded cheese, and, if desired, red pepper until smooth; stir in pasta. Spoon pasta mixture into a lightly greased 2-qt. baking dish; top with remaining cheese. Bake at 400° for 20 minutes or until golden and bubbly.

“CARDS ON THE TABLE” (2005) Review

“CARDS ON THE TABLE” (2005) Review

Most Agatha Christie fans tend to regard movie and television adaptations of her novels with a kindly eye. Especially if those adaptations closely followed its literary source. Not all adaptations have done this, including “CARDS ON THE TABLE”, ITV’s 2005 adaptation of the author’s 1936 novel.

I have always wondered how Christie fans regarded “CARDS ON THE TABLE”. I suspect many Christie fans would not regard it as a close adaptation of the 1936 novel. Also, the story turned out to be one of those mysteries of the “locked room” variety that many fans sometimes find frustrating. I say . . . almost. After all, the victim was not killed or found in a locked room. Instead, he was quietly killed, while sitting in the same room as the suspects.

The story begins when Belgian-born private detective Hercule Poirot and his friend, crime novelist Ariadne Oliver at an art exhibit, they meet the wealthy art collector Mr. Shaitana, who also has an interest in “collecting” successful murderers. He invites both Poirot and Mrs. Oliver to his dinner party for the following evening. His guests include two more “detectives” – military intelligence officer Colonel Hughes and Scotland Yard’s Superintendent James Wheeler. Mr. Shaitana has also invited four people that he believes have gotten away with murder:

*Dr. Roberts – a successful Harley Street physician who may have deliberately killed a patient
*Mrs. Lorrimer – a well-to-do socialite who may have killed her first husband
*Major Despard – a dashing ex-military explorer and hunter who may have killed a married botanist during his last expedition
*Anne Meredith – an impoverished young woman from a good family who may have killed a former employer who caught her stealing

During supper, Mr. Shaitana expresses veiled hints that the four suspects have successfully committed murder. After the meal, he organizes two bridge games – one with the suspects playing in the main drawing room, and the “detectives” playing in another room. Mr. Shaitana settles in a chair near the four suspects and fall asleep. When the “detectives” finish their game, they return to the main dining room and find Shaitana’s body, with a knife in his chest. The four “sleuths” – Poirot, Mrs. Oliver, Superintendent Wheeler and Colonel Hughes – set about investigating Mr. Shaitana’s murder.

For those Christie fans who demand that all movie and television adaptations be faithful to their literary sources, “CARDS ON THE TABLE” just might disappoint them. Director Sarah Harding and screenwriter Nick Dear obviously made changes to Christie’s story. One, they changed the identity of one of the story’s murderers. Two, they allowed two of the characters that died in the novel . . . survive. Colonel Race in the novel became Colonel Hughes in the movie, due to James Fox (who portrayed Race in 2004’s “DEATH ON THE NILE”) being unavailable for the production. And they allowed one of the characters that survived in the book to die. Harding and Dear also changed the motives for both main killers in the story. And . . . they allowed one of the investigators, Superintendent Wheeler, to become a suspect.

Did these changes ruin the story for me? Overall . . . no. First of all, I have to admit that “CARDS ON THE TABLE” is a pretty damn good story. Although I liked Christie’s novel very much, there were moments when I found it somewhat convoluted. I cannot say the same about Nick Dear’s screenplay. He managed to make Christie’s story more coherent without dumbing down the story. The movie also benefited from Sarah Harding’s competent direction. She did a first-class job in maintaining my interest in the story. Not once did her direction ground the movie to a halt. Harding also produced excellent performances from the cast. Contrary to what many may think, even competent actors and actresses can have their performances ruined by an incompetent director. But more importantly, despite the energetic pacing, she managed to maintain the movie’s suspense and mystery. This was greatly enhanced by flashbacks of not only the actual murder, but also the characters’ meetings with Mr. Shaitana.

I certainly did not have a problem with the movie’s production and look. Jeff Tessler, who has worked for both “AGATHA CHRISTIE’S POIROT” and “AGATHA CHRISTIE’S MARPLE” did an excellent job in re-creating London of the mid-1930s. With the help of cinematographer David Marsh, Denise Ball’s art direction and the movie’s art department; Tessler’s work radiated class and style. The crew’s work also benefited from Sheena Napier’s costume designs, which I found very stylish and close to what the well-born or successful English had worn during the Thirties. I do not know who worked on the actresses’ hairstyles, but I must admit that I was impressed by how close they resembled how women styled their hair eighty years ago. My only complaint was Honeysuckle Weeks’ hairstyle, which seemed more suited to the 1940s, instead of the 1930s.

The performances featured in “CARDS ON THE TABLE” struck me as first-rate. David Suchet was excellent, as usual, in his portrayal of Hercule Poirot. I was surprised that his performance seemed a little introverted and I cannot help but wonder if the presence of three other “investigators” had an impact. “CARDS ON THE TABLE” proved to be Zoë Wanamaker’s first appearance as mystery writer Ariadne Oliver and the actress never looked back. Right from the beginning, Wanamaker had a lock on the character. Also, she and Suchet created immediate chemistry on screen, which is not surprising since both had worked on stage together. I also have to comment on Alexander Siddig’s performance. Personally, I believe Mr. Shaitana might prove to be my favorite role he has ever performed. Shaitana seemed like such a departure from anything else he has done and he did such a marvelous job in radiating a mixture of mystery, humor and wit from his character.

I also enjoyed the performances from the other cast members. Aside from Suchet, Wanamaker and Siddig; I also enjoyed Tristan Gemmill as Major Despard, who seemed to be a curious mixture of warmth and coldness; Lyndsey Marshal as the charming, yet morally ambiguous Anne Meredith; Honeysuckle Weeks as Anne’s domineering roommate, Rhoda Dawes; Robert Pugh as the conservative, yet pragmatic Colonel Hughes; and David Westhead, who gave an interesting performance as the slightly suspect Superintendent Jim Wheeler. But my two favorite performances from the supporting cast came from Lesley Manville and Alex Jennings. Manville gave a very enigmatic performance as the mysterious Mrs. Lorrimer, who seemed to have a passion for bridge. And Alex Jennings gave an entertaining performance performance as the verbose Doctor Roberts, who seemed to have something of a touch of gallows humor.

Was there anything about “CARDS ON THE TABLE” that I did not like or found unappealing? Well . . . yes. I had a problem with the motives of the story’s two main killers. Mr. Shaitana’s murderer killed the former to hide a homosexual relationship. I could have tolerated this if Dear had not made the second murderer in the story a homosexual, as well. The second murderer killed due to love for another character and the latter’s interest in a third party. Both murderers turned out to be homosexual and I cannot help but wonder if Nick Dear, Sarah Harding or even the producers are homophobic. It certainly seems likely. This portrayal of two separate murderers as homosexuals proved to be one of the worst examples of bigotry I have ever encountered in any movie or television production in recent years.

Even though I found the homophobia tasteless, I otherwise enjoyed “CARDS ON THE TABLE” a lot. Nick Dear more or less did an excellent job in adapting Agatha Christie’s novel. I was very impressed by Sarah Harding’s energetic, yet atmospheric direction. And I was especially impressed by the talented cast, led by David Suchet. Despite a major setback, “CARDS ON THE TABLE” still proved to be a first-rate movie.

Favorite Films Set in the 1900s

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Below is a list of my favorite movies (so far) that are set in the 1900s decade:

FAVORITE FILMS SET IN THE 1900s

1 - Howards End

1. “Howard’s End” (1992) – Ismail Merchant and James Ivory created this exquisite adaptation of E.M. Forster’s 1910 novel. The movie starred Oscar winner Emma Thompson, Anthony Hopkins, Helena Bonham-Carter, Samuel West and Oscar nominee Vanessa Redgrave.

 

2 - The Assassination Bureau

2. “The Assassination Bureau” (1969) – Oliver Reed, Diana Rigg and Telly Savalas starred in this delicious adaptation of Jack London’s unfinished novel about a woman journalist who uncovers an organization for professional assassins. Basil Dearden directed.

 

3 - A Room With a View

3. “A Room With a View” (1985-86) – Ismail Merchant and James Ivory created this excellent adaptation of E.M. Forster’s 1908 novel. The movie starred Helena Bonham-Carter, Julian Sands, Daniel Day-Lewis and Oscar nominees Maggie Smith and Denholm Elliot.

 

4 - Gigi

4. “Gigi” (1958) – Oscar winner Vincente Minelli directed this superb adaptation of Collette’s 1944 novella about a young Parisian girl being groomed to become a courtesan. Leslie Caron and Louis Jordan starred.

 

5 - The Illusionist

5. “The Illusionist” (2006) – Neil Burger directed this first-rate adaptation of Steven Millhauser’s short story, “Eisenheim the Illusionist”. The movie starred Edward Norton, Jessica Biel, Paul Giamatti and Rufus Sewell.

 

6 - The Great Race

6. “The Great Race” (1965) – Blake Edwards directed this hilarious comedy about a long-distance road race between two rival daredevils. The movie starred Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis and Natalie Wood.

 

7 - Flame Over India aka North West Frontier

7. “Flame Over India aka North West Frontier” (1959) – Kenneth More and Lauren Bacall starred in this Imperial adventure about a British Army officer who serves as escort to a young Hindu prince being targeted by Muslim rebels. J. Lee Thompson directed.

 

8 - Meet Me in St. Louis

8. “Meet Me in St. Louis” (1944) – Judy Garland starred in this very entertaining adaptation of Sally Benson’s short stories about a St. Louis family around the time of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition World’s Fair in 1904. Vincente Minelli directed.

 

9 - The Golden Bowl

9. “The Golden Bowl” (2000) – Ismail Merchant and James Ivory created this interesting adaptation of Henry James’ 1904 novel about an adulterous affair in Edwardian England. The movie starred Uma Thurman, Nick Nolte, Kate Beckinsale and Jeremy Northam.

 

10 - North to Alaska

10. “North to Alaska” (1960) – John Wayne, Stewart Granger and Capucine starred in this surprisingly fun Western about how a mail-to-order bride nearly came between two partners during the Nome Gold Rush. Henry Hathaway directed.

A Letter to Matthew Weiner

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A LETTER TO MATTHEW WEINER

Dear Matthew Weiner,

I just watched the latest episode of “MAD MEN”, (7.13) “The Milk and Honey Route”, and discovered that Betty Francis was doomed for a quickie death from lung cancer. And all I can say is . . .

FUCK YOU.

Fuck you for this piece of contrived writing that came out of the blue, due to your neverending desire to surprise the viewers. It’s bad enough that you wasted Betty’s nearly decade-long character development with impending death. But you decided to kill her off in the same manner as Don’s former mistress, Rachel Katz. How unoriginal can you be?

This whole story arc disgusted me, because it seemed as if you had pulled it out of his ass and dumped it on the viewers without warning. I guess a quick death by lung cancer was your idea of Betty “developing” into a mature character. I should have known better, considering you are a man who found it realistic that a 21 year-old secretary with no college education can be promoted to a junior copywriter after EIGHT MONTHS of work experience, but found the idea of a black copywriter or accounts exec in the 1960s unrealistic . . . despite the fact that such people actually existed. This was a supreme example of your inability to create complex minority characters. And your idea of a FBI background investigation (in Season Four) was so ridiculous that I am still shaking my head in disgust.

After the contrived writing that surrounded Peggy Olson’s original job promotion in (1.13) “The Wheel”, the dumb ass FBI “investigation” of Don Draper in Season Four and your inability to create and write complex minority characters, I realized that I had enough. So again . . .

FUCK YOU.

“No Criticism of Emma Swan Allowed”

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“NO CRITICISM OF EMMA SWAN ALLOWED”

What is it about the Emma Swan character that raises the ire of so many fans whenever any of her actions are criticized? Is she some kind of sacred cow of the “ONCE UPON A TIME” fandom?

I do not regard Emma as some kind of monster. I never have. But I do get tired of fandom stomping down on anyone who dares to criticize her character or any of her actions. Some have claimed that my criticisms are a result of my dislike of Emma. Well, I am going to protest against that accusation. When the series first began in the fall of 2011, Emma was one of my favorite characters on the show. I spent most of that season cheering for her victory against Big Bad Regina Mills aka the Evil Queen. I felt especially thrilled when she finally restored everyone’s memories of their Enchanted Forest personas when she broke the curse cast by Regina. So . . . what happened? How did I come to this point where I find myself criticizing Emma so much? More importantly, why are so many fans intolerant of the idea of her being criticized in the first place?

I feel it began in Season Two, when Emma and her mother, Snow White, found themselves conveyed to a post-curse Enchanted Forest. They spent most of that season’s early episodes trying to find a way to return to Storybrooke, Maine with the help of two new acquaintances – Mulan and Princess Aurora aka Sleeping Beauty. When they finally stumbled across a means – namely a magical compass that could guide them to a portal, it just went sour. There was an incident between Snow White and Mulan in the episode, (2.08) “Into the Deep” in which the latter had stolen the compass in order to exchange it with Regina’s mother, the more evil Cora Mills aka the Queen of Hearts, for the kidnapped Aurora’s life. However, Snow and Emma managed to catch up with Mulan. And Snow started to murder Mulan. I had posted a complaint about what happened. How did many fans respond? They claimed that Snow was about to kill Mulan, while in the midst of a fight. In reality, the fight had ended with Snow the victor. After Mulan confessed that she wanted the compass to save Aurora, Snow started to kill her anyway by shoving an arrow toward her face. Emma . . . did nothing to stop her mother. Instead, she stood there and watched. It was Aurora (freed by Killian Jones aka Captain Hook) who actually saved Mulan. Every time . . . every time I bring this up, people sweep Emma and Snow’s actions under the rug by insulting Mulan or pretending that no such thing happened.

On several occasions since Season Two, I have brought up the subject of Emma’s possession of a stolen car . . . namely the yellow Volkswagen that she drives. The Season Two episode, (2.06) “Tallahassee” revealed that her former lover, Neal Cassidy aka Baefire, had originally stolen the yellow Volkswagen. Then Emma, who was in her late teens at the time, tried to steal the car from him, before he stopped her. Following her arrest for the theft of watches that he had stolen, Neal had changed the car’s registration in order to reflect Emma as the vehicle’s legal owner. And instead of doing the right thing and turning it in to the police, Emma took possession of a vehicle that she knows was stolen and kept it for over a decade. Even after she managed to become a successful bails bondsman. Whenever I brought up this matter, other fans would sweep Emma’s misdeed under the rug and use her sentimentality over her past relationship with Neal as an excuse for her maintaining possession of a stolen vehicle.

From the moment she had decided to remain in Storybrooke in the series’ premiere, Emma has been breaking the law regarding the close adoption she had agreed to when she gave up her birth son, Henry Mills. When Emma learned that Regina, who was Henry’s adopted mother, had used a file about her criminal background to divide her and Henry, she used a chainsaw to destroy one of Regina’s apple trees … on her personal property. When I first saw the Season One episode, (1.02) “The Thing You Love Most”, I cheered. What can I say? I was pretty stupid back then. After some thought, my feelings over the incident has changed. For reasons that now baffles me, the series’ creators Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz had allowed Emma to get away with this criminal act by having Sheriff Graham Humbert convince Regina not to press charges. I could not fucking believe it when I last saw this episode. Why was it so important that Emma avoid paying the price for trespassing and damage to private property? Come to think of it . . . why was just as it was important that she did not pay the price for possession of stolen property? Why was Snow White allowed to avoid any consequences for the attempt on Mulan’s life? Why was Emma allowed to avoid any consequences for being an accessory to her mother’s attempted murder? Why are the crimes of Regina, Rumpelstiltskin aka Mr. Gold and Killian constantly discussed and criticized by fans . . . and not those crimes and mistakes committed by Emma and/or her parents?

Speaking of Emma Swan and the law … why on earth is this woman the Sheriff of Storybrooke? Since when is experience as a bail bondsman qualifies someone for law enforcement? Mind you, none of the other characters – Graham or Sidney Glass – were not qualified. But neither was Emma. To make matters worse, she has developed a bad habit of abusing her position. At the end of the Season Two episode, (2.11) “The Outsider”, Killian shot Belle in an attempt to move her across the town’s limit and have her lose her memories. Why? He wanted revenge against Belle’s future husband, Rumpelstiltskin, for the loss of his hand and the murder of his former lover, Rumpelstiltskin’s wife Milah. For his actions, Killian got hit by a car. I had no problems with that. He deserved to pay the consequences of his act. In the following episode, (2.12) “In the Name of the Brother”, Emma questioned Killian for the whereabouts of his companion at the time, Cora Mills. When Killian responded with a snarky and flirtatious remark, Emma applied pressure to his wound, causing him pain. This little act was supposed to be a joke. All I can say is . . . what the fuck? Were Kitsis and Horowitz advocating police brutality? Apparently so, for in the Season Four episode, (2.04) “The Apprentice”, Emma had interrupted her date with Killian, to arrest Will Scarlet, after she spotted inside the restaurant where they were dining. She and her father, David aka Prince Charming had been looking for Will since they spotted him going through Robin Hood’s belongings and breaking into the town’s ice cream shop in the previous episode. And how did Emma treat him? She fed him a half-eaten Pop Tart and kept him jailed longer than necessary, because he had interrupted her date. This was the showrunners’ idea of law enforcement? The audience was supposed to view such abuse of position as a joke? In the wake of national scandals regarding the abuse of law enforcers, I found it difficult to be amused.

The incident that “broke the camel’s back occurred in the Season Three finale, (3.22) “There’s No Place Like Home”. In this episode, Emma and Killian accidentally got caught into a vortex that sent them back into time. During their little time traveling sojourn, Emma accidentally prevented Snow and David’s first meeting. So, she and Killian set out to clean up the mess created by her. In doing so, Emma ended up captured by Regina and tossed into a dungeon that included an imprisoned Maid Marian, wife to Robin Hood, whom Regina was dating in the present time Storybrooke. As everyone knows, when Killian sprung Emma from the dungeon, the latter decided to rescue Marian as well . . . despite the fact that the latter was killed years before Robin Hood ever met Regina. In other words, Emma changed the past. To make matters worse, she revealed Neal’s fate to his father, Rumpelstiltskin. In order to prevent the latter from being tempted to change the time and save Neal, Emma convinced him to drink a memory wiping potion.

Just think about that . . . shall we? Are we to assume that it was okay for Emma to play “savior” by saving a woman who had died in the past and changing the timeline in the process? Yet, it was not okay for Rumpelstiltskin to be tempted to change the time in order to save Neal? The hypocrisy of Emma’s actions still astounds me to this day. When I had posted an earlier article about this, I predicted that Regina would eventually forgive Emma within a few episodes of Season Four. And I was right. Emma felt remorse for ruining Regina’s romance with Robin. But she remained convinced that she had the right to change the timeline in order to save Marian. And within five episodes, Regina forgave Emma for her “mistake” in (4.05) “Breaking Glass”.

I felt disgusted beyond belief. More importantly, I felt angry. And when I posted my feelings about Emma’s actions, I ended up banned from a “ONCE UPON A TIME” Live Journal blog. I posted this article on Tumblr and received a good deal of personal insults for my troubles. When I complained about Emma’s actions and expressed hope that she would see the errors of her actions on the show’s Fanforum thread, I received a warning from the moderator that I was guilty of baiting. I am curious. If I continue to complain about Emma’s inability to see the wrong of her actions … especially her time changing stunt in ““There’s No Place Like Home”, will I ended up being banned from more message boards and sites?

When the idea of SwanQueen first appeared in late Season One/early Season Two of the series, I saw some merit in the idea, even if I could not care less whether Emma and Regina ended up with each other or other partners. Now . . . I would rather blind myself than watch the two of them become a couple. I have a problem with them being friendly, due to the show’s current inability to allow Emma to see the errors of her ways. Such a relationship now strikes me as uneven. As long as Regina continues to be judged for her past actions, while Emma gets a free ride or excuses for hers, I could never support such a relationship. Hell, I could barely give a rat’s ass about Emma’s relationship with Killian. I am not one of those who believe that their relationship supports“rape culture”, due to Killian’s past sexual innuendos to Emma. But I cannot support a relationship when the abusive actions of one them – namely Emma’s physical abuse of Killian in mid-Season Two and her treatment of the imprisoned Will Scarlet – are treated like jokes.

This is my plea to Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis. Do something about Emma Swan. Please. I am sick and tired of you giving Emma an excuse for many of her questionable actions. If you are capable of allowing characters like Regina Mills, Rumpelstiltskin, Killian Jones and even Snow White (for the murder of Cora) facing their mistakes and crimes, why can you not do the same for Emma? Why allow her to break the law regarding her son’s adoption terms, destroy private property, possess a stolen vehicle, be an accessory to attempted murder, engage in police brutality and do something incredibly stupid like change the timeline . . . andNOT have her face the consequences of her actions? Because I am fast losing all respect for Emma. And I am getting sick and tired of being punished for criticizing her behavior.

“STAR TREK DEEP SPACE NINE” RETROSPECT: (5.04) “Nor the Battle to the Strong”

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“STAR TREK DEEP SPACE NINE” RETROSPECT: (5.04) “Nor the Battle to the Strong”

It has been a long time since I have watched an episode of “STAR TREK DEEP SPACE NINE”. A long time. I have several DVD box sets for “STAR TREK VOYAGER” and the Syfi Channel now airs “STAR TREK NEXT GENERATION” episodes on a daily basis. So when I had decided to re-aquaint myself with the 1993-99 series, I chose the Season Five episode, (5.04) “Nor the Battle to the Strong”.

To understand the background for “Nor the Battle to the Strong”, I had to recall the series’ political background that sometimes came off as slightly chaotic. Between the series’ late Season Four and early-to-mid Season Five, the Federation had been embroiled in a war against the Klingon Empire. Captain Benjamin Sisko, his senior staff and the Federation learned that the Founders – the Changeling leaders of the Dominion in the Gamma Quadrant – had planted another Changeling to impersonate the Klingons’ head of state, Gowron in the Season Five premire, (5.01) “Apocalypse Rising”. Despite this discovery, the Second Federation-Klingon War continued to rage. The war eventually ended, but not before the airing of “Nor the Battle to the Strong”.

In a nutshell, “Nor the Battle to the Strong” began with Dr. Julian Bashir and Jake Sisko traveling back to the Deep Space Nine space station after attending a medical conference. Jake had accompanied the Starfleet doctor to write a story about the latter, who had given a lecture. The pair receive a distress call a Federation colony on Ajilon Prime. Despite the recent cease fire after the events of “Apocalypse Rising”, the Klingons have resumed their war with the Federation. The Ajilon Prime colony is under attack by the Klingons has requested assistance. Bashir is reluctant to bring Jake along, but the latter convinces the doctor to respond to the distress call. Jake suspects that situation on Ajilon Prime might prove to be a better story than Bashir’s conference lecture.

Once the pair arrive at Ajilon Prime, Jake realizes that he has landed into a situation beyond his control and understanding. The colony endures repeated attacks by the Klingons, while Bashir and the base’s Federation personnel (medical or otherwise) deal not only with the warfare raging outside the field hospital. At first, Jake lends his assistance as an orderly. But the bloodshed, the cries of the wounded, the bombardment and the varied reactions of the Federation personnel prove too much for him. And in the end, he has to resort to desperate and non-heroic actions in order to survive.

“Nor the Battle to the Strong” has become one of the most highly regarded episodes of “STAR TREK DEEP SPACE NINE” by fans and critics alike. And I can see why. Writers René Echevarria and Brice R. Parker, director Kim Friedman and production designer Herman F. Zimmerman did a top-notch job of creating a somewhat realistic vision of war in the STAR TREK universe. I noticed there seemed to be very little technobabble in this episode . . . for which I utterly am grateful. I suspect that the writers wanted to emphasize the grittier aspect of war and focus less on the science aspect. One example of the episode’s gritty style proved to be dialogue spoken by the medical and military personnel at the Federation base. For some reason, the dialogue reminded me of that found in war movies . . . especially those set during the Vietnam War. There were other aspects in “Nor the Battle to the Strong” that practically reeked “combat” – Jake’s encounters with a young Starfleet combatant who claimed that his foot had been shot by a Klingon disruptor, a badly wounded Starfleet soldier outside of the base, and a dead Klingon; and the Klingons’ final attack upon the base. What made episode’s gritty atmosphere really effective was the writers’ decision to make Jake Sisko the main character. Jake was an eighteen year-old with ambitions to be a writer and not follow in his father’s footsteps as a Starfleet officer. So it only seemed natural that his character would react to the conditions that he and Dr. Bashir had encountered at Ajilon Prime; which included reacting with horror to the violence and blood he had witnessed, running away to avoid further scenes and defending himself from attacking Klingon troops.

The episode also benefitted from first-rate performances. The supporting cast did a solid job in conveying Federation troops and medical personnel under siege. This was especially apparent in the performances of Andrew Kavovit as the orderly named Kirby, Karen Austin as Dr. Kalandra, and Danny Goldring, who strongly impressed me as the dying Starfleet soldier, Chief Burke. Alexander Siddig gave a nuanced performance as Dr. Julian Bashir, who became guilt-stricken for bringing Jake with him to the Ajilon Prime battlefront. But for me, the best performance came from Cirroc Lofton, who gave a superb performance as Jake Sisko. Lofton did a skillful job of conveying Jake’s emotional journey in this episode – from the cocky adolescent who wanted to prove his journalistic skills with an exciting story to the guilt-ridden young man, traumatized by his experiences in combat.

Although I was impressed by most of the cast, there was one performance that failed to impress me. It came from an actor named Jeb Brown, who portrayed the Starfleet ensign who claimed he had been wounded by the Klingon. Try as he may, Brown simply failed to convince me of a young man expressing guilt over and attempting to hide what may have been an act of cowardice. I simply found his performance a bit heavy-handed. In fact, it was Brown’s performance that led me to take a closer look at the episode. There was something about “Nor the Battle to the Strong” that prevented me from fully embracing it. I could not put my finger upon it, until I asked my sister. She believed that “they” hard tried too hard. By “they”, she meant the episode’s production staff. She thought they had tried to hard to convey the atmosphere of a gritty war drama. And I agree.

Starting with the wounded Starfleet ensign, it seemed as if the writers, Friedman and the producers tried to utilize every war drama cliché to create an effective combat episode. Even worse, there were plenty of moments when their efforts struck me as heavy-handed. If it were not for the setting, the props and the Federation/Starfleet costumes, and those scenes at Deep Space Nine and aboard the Defiant, I would have sworn I was watching a war movie, instead of TREK episode. Some might see this as a good sign – a TREK episode venturing beyond the usual franchise’s umbrella. I cannot agree with that opinion. I see no reason to do so in the first place. Why? Because the TREK franchise managed to produce plenty of dark and gritty episodes that were not only first-rate, but also managed to maintain its science-fiction style. The ironic thing is that two years later, the production staff for “STAR TREK DEEP SPACE NINE” made another attempt to present an episode about the grittiness of combat. Only (7.08) “The Siege of AR-558″ was set during the Dominion War.

I have to admit that my original opinion of “Nor the Battle to the Strong” is not as positive as it used to be. It has its virtues – namely a solid narrative and some excellent performances by the cast – especially from Cirroc Lofton. But for me, the episode possesses a heavy-handedness that I found a little off-putting. After all, this is supposed to be “STAR TREK DEEP SPACE NINE”, not“PLATOON”.

“NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK II” (1986) – Episode Three “September 1862 – August 1863″ Commentary

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“NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK II” (1986) – EPISODE THREE “September 1862 – August 1863″

I have mixed feelings about Episode Three of “NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK II”. Fortunately, most of my feelings are positive. This episode featured the Battle of Antietam, the Battle of Gettysburg, and a major schism in the Main family, regarding Madeline Main and her two sisters-in-law – Brett Hazard and Ashton Huntoon. But there was still certain aspects of this episode that I did not find particularly appealing.

I found the first half of this episode to be rather dull. Those reading this article would find this statement surprising, since the Battle of Antietam was featured in this first third of the episode. But I did. Following President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, one of the Mains’ slaves, Jim, decided to take matters into hands and run away. Unfortunately, he was caught and killed by the Mains’ former overseer, Salem Jones. I will admit that the reaction to Jim’s death proved to be slightly interesting, thanks to the excellent acting by Erica Gimbel, Beau Billingslea and especially Forest Whitaker; who portrayed Semiramis, Ezra and Cuffey. I was especially impressed by Whitaker’s performance as he conveyed Cuffey’s bitterness over being owned by the Mains. However, I found Brett and Madeline’s presence at Jim’s funeral to be a touch patronizing. But that is merely a private opinion.

Now, I had no problems with Kevin Connor’s direction of the Battle of Antietam. I believe he did the right thing by keeping the battle solely focused upon Billy Hazard and Charles Main. This allowed their brief reunion to be not only surprising, but dramatic. But I do have one major quibble about this particular sequence. How did Charles and his fellow officer, Ambrose Pell go from being cavalry scouts to leading large bodies of infantry troops on the field? If the miniseries had earlier included a small band of scouts under their command, I could see them leading these men into battle. But large bodies of infantry troops? Were the officers of these troops dead? And what kind of troops were they leading? Infantry or dismounted cavalry? I found this kind of inconsistent vagueness very irritating. The Battle of Gettysburg was better handled . . . somewhat. Considering it was one of the major conflicts of the war and fought in the same region – Southern Pennsylvania – as the Hazards’ hometown of Lehigh Station, I was surprised that the screenplay did not focus too highly on it. The battle was simply used as a literary device for the reunion of George and Billy Hazard and an excuse for the latter to go AWOL and see Brett.

The second half of Episode Three turned out to be a big improvement. Most of the slaves left Mont Royal and I did not blame them one bit. Orry’s reaction to their departure was interesting, considering how “BOOK I” had established his slight aversion to slavery. More importantly, his character came off as increasingly conservative. I found this surprising, considering that in the novel, “Love and War”, his views on slavery and racial relations had become slightly more radical. I found that little moment in which Orry bid his mother Clarissa Main good-bye, following his furlough, rather lovely and touching, thanks to the performances of Patrick Swayze and Jean Simmons. But I have mixed feelings about Billy’s decision to go AWOL in order to see Brett in South Carolina. Frankly, I found it disturbing. I do not blame him for missing Brett. But if the writers had not sent her to South Carolina in that ridiculous story line in Episode 2, she would have remained in the North and Billy would not have went AWOL. And his decision to head for South Carolina will prove to be troublesome for Episode Four‘s plot. I am also remain dumfounded by George’s position in the Union Army. During his reunion with Billy before the Gettysburg battle, he claimed that he had been transferred to field duty. And he was seen commanding artillery units. Yet, after the battle, he was seen attending another meeting with President Lincoln and his Cabinet. What the hell? The screenwriters really screwed up this time.

The episode’s second half, Ashton Main Huntoon’s appearance at Mont Royal really stirred things a bit. I found it to be the episode’s most enjoyable segment. Before I explain why I enjoyed it, I have to say a few words regarding Ashton’s reason for visiting her home – namely to confront Madeline about her African ancestry and drive her from Mont Royal and Orry’s radar. If I must be frank, I found Ashton and Bent’s revenge against Orry by using Madeline’s family secret, a bit . . . anti-climatic. Frankly, I thought they could have exposed Madeline’s secret in a more dramatic and satisfying moment – like during a political party in Richmond (which happened in the novel) or expose the secret to the Mains’ neighbors. However, their act of revenge did result in a marvelous scene well acted by Terri Garber and Lesley Anne Down. Semiramis’ rant against Ashton, thanks to another great piece of acting from Gimpel, was nice touch, although a bit fruitless. But it was Brett’s confrontation with Ashton that really did justice to this episode. Kudos to Garber and especially Genie Francis. Francis also shared an excellent scene with Parker Stevenson, who as Billy Hazard expressed his growing discontent with the war.

There is one major problem with this sequence. When Ashton arrived at Mont Royal, she carried foodstuff for the plantation. This makes no sense whatsoever. Ashton was traveling from a state – namely Virginia – that had been ravaged by two years of war. The amount of foodstuff she was carrying from Virginia should have been rare. South Carolina, on the other hand, had been freed of any battles by 1863, aside from the Sea Islands and the forts off the coast of Charleston. There should have been plenty of foodstuff at Mont Royal, thanks to Madeline, Brett, Semiramis and Ezra.

Anthony Zerbe made his first appearance as General Ulysses S. Grant, whom George had traveled all the way to Tennessee to meet, on behalf of President Lincoln. Veteran stars James Stewart and Olivia De Havilland appeared near the end of this episode. Did anyone know that those two had once dated in the late 1930s? Anyway, Stewart gave a charming performance as Madeline’s Charleston attorney, despite his Midwestern accent. However, De Havilland’s portrayal as Virgilia Hazard’s field hospital supervisor, Mrs. Neal, proved to be more interesting and complex. I could not decide which character was more irritating – Virgilia’s arrogant disregard for Mrs. Neal’s advice, or the latter’s patronizing concern for Southern patients at the expense of the other patients and her unfounded suspicions that Virgilia was ignoring them. Both De Havilland and Kirstie Alley gave superb performances in their scenes together.

Although Episode Three had its flaws, I cannot deny that Kevin Connor did an excellent job as the director. But I believe he was ably supported by the miniseries’ crew. Once again, Jacques R. Marquette’s photography provided a good deal of color and style to this episode – especially in the Battle of Antietam sequences. Jospeh R. Jennings continued his excellent production designs, ably transforming viewers back to the United States of the early 1860s. I could say the say about Robert Fletcher’s costume designs. I was especially impressed by his wardrobe for Maude and Isobel Hazard, along with Ashton Huntoon, who ended up being the best-dressed character of the episode. Below are examples of Fletcher’s work:

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Despite a some quibbles and a dull first half hour, Episode Three was an improvement over Episode Two. I was surprised by the number of excellent dramatic moments and first-rate acting in this episode. Also Kevin Connor’s direction of the Battle of Antietam and Gettysburg struck me as pretty damn good. I could say that Episode Three was the highlight of the 1986 miniseries. But I do not believe I would go that far.

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